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April 22, 2013 Post Produce: Almost There!

lettuce seedlings under lights

These lettuce seedlings aren’t doing well under lights. My guess: the seed starting soil I used wasn’t very good. I bought a brick of starting soil at a nursery four years ago, and seeds I started in that have thrived. These lettuce seedlings are in soil I bought in Ithaca when I was desperate to get the growing season started. The seedlings will be far happier when I set them in the garden today or Tuesday.

This month’s Post Produce isn’t about produce I’m eating from my garden. Rather, it’s about produce I WILL eat! We’re having a most “normal” spring in central Pennsylvania, meaning spring crops are just barely underway.

My peach trees are in bloom, but the apples look barely awake. Pear blossoms are about to burst. Rhubarb is far enough along that were I desperate enough I could harvest some, but I think I’ll hold out a week or two and let the stalks grow to full-length. Raspberry plants I set out last fall are putting out growth despite having been severely pruned by wild animals during the winter. Blueberry plants are also showing signs of life. Oh, and oregano, thyme, sage, lavender, and tarragon have all sprouted new leaves. If the weather is good when I wake up today, I’ll photograph the perennials for a follow-up blog post. Until then, I’m talking vegetables.

onion seedlings under lights

I posted about Walla-Walla onions on April 5th, and promised I was about to start a second tray of seeds. Here’s the second tray, and the seedlings look great—though there’s plenty of algae growing on the soil. Algae doesn’t usually cause problems but it may indicate the seedlings have gotten too much water.

When I Plant Vegetables

Despite the lift my perennials provide, annual vegetables hold much more of my attention in early spring. Two weeks ago, I planted 28 foot-rows of pea seeds directly in the garden. Many of those seeds have sprouted, but there are gaps I’ll fill by pressing fresh seeds into the soil. Also, I expect to plant another 14 foot-rows of peas TODAY!

I wish I already had lettuce, spinach, and mustard seeds in the garden, but I’ve been distracted (see the box, Missing Spring if you want to know why.)

Missing Spring

Perhaps you’ve already heard this story: My dad moved out of our family home of 51 years and I’ve been spending about 2 out of every 3 days in Ithaca, NY making repairs and improvements, emptying the house, and otherwise preparing it for rental. Despite that, I’m trying to establish my vegetable garden as I do every spring.

I’ve started several sets of seeds indoors and my wife has taken on the burden of keeping them alive while I’m out of town. When seeds fail, I’m not here to react quickly, so there may be unfamiliar gaps in this year’s selections. Worse: cool weather crops could already be out in the garden, but most of them aren’t. On two of my last two trips home, I ended up sick and accomplished very little.

Had this been spring of 2012, I’d be uncomfortably behind. Thankfully, the slower onset of warm weather this year has kept me in the game and I anticipate getting my cool weather crops planted by midweek… assuming I don’t fall ill. Spending so much time in Ithaca makes me feel as though I’m missing spring.

Seeds I planted indoors under lights have had enough time to prove themselves. Many have failed, but far more are growing strong. Tomorrow I’ll start seeds to replace the failures, and a few more I wanted to start two weeks ago before I ran out of time. Photos show where things stand.

Now You Post!

I get very excited as my seedlings emerge; there will be fresh vegetables in less than a month! What about you? Are you already harvesting pounds and pounds of delicious produce, or are you merely anticipating? Post about your homegrown produce and use the Linky Widget at the end of this post to link to yours.

tomato seedlings under lights

I planted 46 tomato seeds two weeks ago. Here’s what sprouted: Glory of Mechelon—3 of 3. Moonglow—5 of 5. Chili-pepper-shaped paste tomato—9 of 15 (from 2-year-old seeds). Indigo Rose—5 of 5. Mortgage Lifter—7 of 7. Dutchman—6 of 8 (But they’re tiny! The short ones in the photo are Dutchman at about one-quarter the height of the other varieties.) White Queen—2 of 3. I’ll start 23 more seeds later today to fill in for ones that didn’t sprout. Also: my earliest-planted tomatoes—Stupice—look about to die. They’re in the same inferior soil that holds my lettuce seedlings, so I’m thinking to start eight more though it’s kind of late for them to demonstrate cold-hardiness. (Stupice are a short-season variety and I was hoping to get an early harvest.)

pepper seedlings under lights

My pepper starts have been finicky as they always are. These seem to have been over-watered in my absence which has never helped in past years. Still, some are strugging along: Orange King Bell—6 of 8. Purple Jalapeno—1 of 5. Sweet Italian—5 of 5. Poblano—0 of 5. I intended to start two trays of peppers in the first place, but it looks as though I’ll add two more. As the soil in this first tray dries, the poblanos might just wake up and I’ll end up with too many seedlings.

Use the Linky here and add a link to your Post Produce post. Share what you’re eating or what you plan to eat from your own garden:

 

Crazy Early Harvest for Post Produce!

one neck pumpkin goes a long way

It seems every season I leave some onions unharvested, and 2012 was no exception. On a shopping trip in mid-March I failed to buy onions, and this caused some anxiety when I started cooking a meal that demanded them. Happily, the 2012 leftovers were juicy, sweet, and tender, and they made the dish.

Apparently, Punxsutawney Phil was messing with us back on February 2nd so, for the first Post Produce of spring, 2013, my small kitchen garden is locked into winter. I’ve started plenty of vegetable seeds indoors, and they’ll probably remain there until mid April.

Despite spring’s reluctance to arrive, I’ve already harvested and prepared food from one of my planting beds. What’s more, the low hoop tunnels I installed last fall have wintered over several lettuce plants, and I anticipate being able to make salad by the time I set seedlings outdoors – using several varieties of lettuce.

Lettuce survived winter in a low hoop tunnel

My last lettuce harvest of 2012 was at Christmas but it didn’t decimate the lettuce crop. Many plants left in the hoop tunnels survived winter. They didn’t do any growing and there’s frost damage around the edges of some leaves, but the plants will spring into action when the weather warms and I’ll harvest a homegrown lettuce salad about when I’m normally planting for a mid-spring crop.

Until this year, I’d never harvested from my garden in March. The experience further motivates me to think about winter as a fourth growing season. If I can find time through all the other craziness in my life, I’ll expand my winter gardening activities this fall. Maybe I won’t wait for atmospheric carbon to pull hardiness zone 10 north to Pennsylvania. If I can afford to, perhaps I’ll grow pineapples in central Pennsylvania despite cold winters.

Now You Post!

That’s all I have this month. I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate Post Produce with actual, fresh, homegrown vegetables at the very end of winter. Please share yours. Use the widget below to link to your post about what you’re eating from your garden. Thanks for visiting!

 

More Squash! February 2013 Post Produce

one neck pumpkin goes a long way

One of four 12-pound or larger neck pumpkins I harvested last autumn, this winter squash dwarfs my largest chef’s knife and hangs off both sides of a very large cutting board.

This month’s Post Produce is only barely about winter squash. You see, my dad moved out of our family home. He decided to take an apartment in a progressive care facility, and I’ve been spending a whole lot of time in Ithaca helping him get settled, making repairs in the house, and staging removal of everything. We hope to have the house ready to rent by June.

During my last stint in Lewisburg (where I live), I made a small vat of curried squash soup. To do that, I cut up a 12 pound neck pumpkin and cooked some of it, leaving a big chunk in the refrigerator. When I packed up to return to Ithaca this week, I brought the leftover (uncooked) neck pumpkin along. Tonight, I cooked it.

Seed Giveaway

A complete seed set for the giveaway described in this post includes the following:

This is a Post Produce post, but it falls just three days before I close my seed giveway. I’m giving away seeds from the squash in the photos as well as from two types of tomato plants and a variety of sweet Italian peppers. If you’re reading this before February 25, 2013, click this link to enter the giveaway.

When I Cook Alone

I tend not to be super-motivated when I cook for myself. I usually cook a meal for six, expecting to eat it over the course of three or four days. I’ll have it for dinner one day, lunch and dinner the next, and so on until it’s gone. The neck pumpkin plays into this scheme for my current stint in Ithaca: I’ll have it and mashed potatoes with the boneless pork ribs I cooked tonight. That ought to get me through the weekend and partway through next week.

The photos show what I did with the squash. This is a super-de-duper-de basic preparation that results in a classic side dish. What makes it special is that the neck pumpkin I used came from my garden in October, and it’s still in great shape in February! Two more neck pumpkins sit in a rocking chair in my dining room and will likely become curried soup, gilled squash, or more mashed squash… it’s hard to predict.

Now You Post!

To participate in this month’s Post Produce, scroll to the bottom of this page. There, use the Linky widget to link to your blog post. Simple; quick. After you link, please visit other bloggers’ Post Produce posts and see what your fellow gardeners are eating.

cutting a neck pumpkin

The neck of a neck pumpkin is solid squash meat. I used about two-thirds of the neck for one batch of soup, one-third of the neck and some slices of the bulb for a second batch of soup, and what was left of the bulb became mashed squash that I’ll eat over the next four or five days.

pieces of neck pumpkin

These are the pieces of neck pumpkin I brought with me to Ithaca: they still need to be peeled and scraped before going into the cook pot. I work on my mom’s in-counter cutting board after clearing off such things as hose washers, giant tweezers, and tungsten microelectrodes. Since my mom died, my dad has reinterpreted the use of the kitchen.

peeling a neck pumpkin

The old vegetable peeler I remember from my earliest days is incredibly dull but still able to cut the skin off a winter squash. My mom left a new, sharper peeler, but that has moved with my dad to his apartment. In case you’re preparing winter squash for your first time, please pare deeply. The flesh directly beneath the skin is firm and bitter, and your squash will taste better if you remove the skin and one or two more layers of flesh.

cutting chunks of neck pumpkin

After peeling the sections, and scraping the stringy stuff from the insides, I cut the squash into fairly large chunks and add them to a pot of water.

neck pumpkin on the stove

The Pyrex pitcher on the right dates back to, perhaps, the 1970s. I heat water in it daily for hot chocolate mixed with instant coffee—that’s my main source of caffeine. Note that I haven’t covered the squash chunks with water; I’ll add a lid to the pot and anything above water will cook in steam. I start the burner on high, but turn it down to medium when the water boils. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for the squash to soften.

seasoning cooked neck pumpkin

When the tip of a knife easily slips through the skin side of the squash chunks, I pour off the water. Then I add two tablespoons of butter and three tablespoons of brown sugar – please add more or less of either to suite your own tastes. I stir with a spoon, superficially mashing individual chunks of squash as I go. I prefer a chunky mixture over a smooth one, but were I cooking this for others I’d use a potato masher.

Here’s the Linky widget. Go ahead: add a link to your Post Produce post. I look forward to seeing what you’re eating from your own garden:

 

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Jam and Jelly: Post Produce January 2013

peanut butter is my Post Produce entry

A loaded peanut butter and jelly sandwich will ooze jam when I bite into it. The sweet fruitiness calls back flavors from last year’s growing season.

It’s the first 22nd of 2013; the first Post Produce of the year. Finally, winter has found my small kitchen garden in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. A fresh inch and a half of heavy, dry snow covers an earlier, well-hardened snow that was on the verge of melting away just a few days ago. The thermometer reads eight degrees Fahrenheit as I type, and it’s heading lower as morning approaches.

To celebrate Post Produce in the dead of winter, I’ve only preserves from my garden. We’ve been eating carrots, beans, squash (both summer and winter varieties), pepper relish, and herbs from last year’s garden. While I try to create new combinations and flavors with my own preserves and farmers’ market purchases, a classic, unoriginal, all-American standard has recently exploded back into my repertoire: Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!

Lunch for a Bedtime Snack

We don’t do dessert so much at the Cityslipper ranch, but lately I’ve developed late-night urges for sweet snacks. Having to assemble something to get me through to bedtime, I slapped together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using one piece of bread cut in half, and it satisfied. I guess when you go without dessert long enough, that quasi-nutritional lunch-time standard tastes pretty sweet.

The bread and peanut butter I use for these snacks come from a grocery store, but the jams and jellies come from my larder. In 2012, I made strawberry jam, sour cherry jam, black raspberry jelly, fruit punch jam (sour cherry, black raspberry, and blueberry), peach jelly, grape jelly, and quince jelly.

In the interest of full disclosure, only a few strawberries and fewer blueberries came from my garden, though peaches could have. Black raspberries grow wild across the street from my house, so harvesting and preparing them makes it feel as though I grew them myself.

But wherever the produce comes from, it’s always a joy to make a sandwich using jam or jelly I made from the fruit. I’ve produced videos and written posts about making jam and jelly. I hope you’ll try making some in the coming season; it’s easy to do and a terrific first project when you’re learning to can.

How to make strawberry jam – written instructions

Strawberry jam video

How to make sour cherry jam – written instructions

Now You Post Produce!

Please participate. Write a post on your blog about how you’re using produce from your garden—fresh or preserved… or write about produce that you’re harvesting or planning to harvest. Then return here and use the Linky widget to link to your blog post. Follow other bloggers’ links to see what your fellow gardeners produce.

 

 

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Lettuce in Winter: Post Produce December 2012

a simple hoop tunnel extends the growing season

My hoop tunnels took about 15 minutes to assemble. I started writing about how I built them, but recognizing this is a post celebrating the harvest, I’ll save hoop tunnel instructions for another day. You can see vague leafy shapes through the plastic of the hoop tunnel.

You’ve found the home of Post Produce. Post Produce is a monthly online celebration of homegrown food. I’m posting this month about the lettuce I’ll harvest for my family’s Christmas dinner. I hope you’ll write a post on your blog about your own homegrown food, and return here to share a link back. The linky widget is at the end of this post.

It’s late December. WINTER! That means we’ve had many autumn nights (and days) where the temperature dropped below freezing. Despite the cold, I have fresh lettuce growing in my kitchen garden!

Hoop Tunnels

I reported back in October that a late planting of lettuce, spinach, and pak choi was growing nicely in my garden annex and that I had erected the skeleton for a hoop tunnel. I ended up making a second skeleton and draping two hoop tunnels with plastic in early November.

I haven’t harvested heavily from my semi-protected salad patch, but we have had fresh, homegrown greens at several meals even on days when the temperature never rose above freezing. This afternoon, I peeled back the entrance to one of the tunnels to confirm that we will have a fresh lettuce salad at Christmas dinner.

I spotted some damaged leaves on several lettuce plants—obviously frozen through some time ago. Still, the plants look healthy and we’re likely to have lettuce well into January unless the skies remain cloudy and the temperature drops and stays steadily in the low 20s.

Mild Autumn

Autumn has not challenged my hoop tunnels. While we’ve had an occasionally nighttime low of 24 degrees, soil hasn’t frozen. In fact, pak choi that didn’t make it into the hoop tunnels looks nearly as healthy as its sheltered neighbors. What’s more, my rhubarb plants are confused. They continue to push up new leaves as if they can’t accept that the growing season has ended.

That said, only these cold-hardy plants remain in my garden. Even cilantro has shut down without the benefit of cover, though I expect the plants will revive very early after the spring thaw. This will by my first winter ever in which I’ve served homegrown lettuce salad. It will most likely be the first of many.

lettuce in my hoop tunnel is ready for harvest

Several lettuce leaves in my hoop tunnel are droopy, and a few look as though they’ve frozen and thawed. However, there is clearly enough deliciously fresh-looking lettuce here to fill two or three large salad bowls.

pak choi outdoors in a central Pennsylvania winter

Some pak choi plants ended up inside my hoop tunnels while some remained exposed to the elements. Here, at the beginning of winter, the “outdoor” plants are ready for harvest. This is my first year growing pak choi so I don’t know what temperature will finally kill it off. We’ve had several nights this fall that were cold enough to kill the lettuce plants; without the hoop tunnels we wouldn’t be having homegrown lettuce at Christmas.

confused rhubarb plant in winter

This is just weird. I planted what seemed like really sketchy rhubarb roots in the spring—packages I’d bought at a discount store for about a dollar a plant. They’d been packed while dormant in moist soil and sealed in plastic bags, and I’ve no idea how long they sat on the department store shelf at room temperature. Still, they sprouted and thrived in my garden. Now, when there should be no sign of the plants (except, perhaps, for rotted leaves and stems), there are still mature, pink stalks and full-sized leaves. There are even new leaves (like the ones in this photo) emerging on some of the plants. It has been a very mild autumn.

Post About Your Produce

Share your garden produce with the world! Write your own blog post about what you’re eating from your garden. Are you harvesting now? Are your veggies and fruits still on the plants but coming on strong? Are you dipping into your preserves from this past growing season?

After you post, return here and add a link to the widget below. Please join in this month’s celebration of homegrown produce!

 

 

Thanksgiving 2012 Post Produce

Green beans for casserole

Every bean in the casserole came from my small kitchen garden! I harvested and froze several gallons of beans in 2012. Most were yellow wax beans, but I had enough green beans to make a double-sized casserole following the French’s Fried Onion recipe that my mom used when I was a kid (except I use cream of chicken soup instead of cream of mushroom soup).

Post Produce landed a few days late this month. People trying to manage link parties do well to anticipate holidays so they don’t leave participants hanging. I’m not well enough organized for that. I’d have broken several natural laws if I’d written my article early and set it to post automatically while I was baking pies.

It occurred to me: Why not make Post Produce about Thanksgiving? I hope at least some of you used homegrown produce in your Thanksgiving meals. Even more, I hope you’ll  share your stories about it! Thanksgiving gives me extra thrills when I can serve goodies that I grew myself.

Photos tell the story. I hope you’ll have a look and then write your own Thanksgiving post. Once your post is up, return here, scroll to the bottom, and add a link back to your article. What did you eat from your garden this Thanksgiving?

homegrown sweet potatoes

My homegrown sweet potatoes looked reasonable, though they hadn’t filled out completely. Sadly, many had started to rot—which you couldn’t see until you peeled and cut into them. So, we (my son, actually), cut out large sections. By the time the pot was full, it contained seven or eight commercial sweet potatoes and as many of my crummy homegrown ones. I hope next year to plant sweet potatoes early and harvest them before frost; two things I failed to do this year.

neck pumpkins in rocking chair

Not surprisingly, neck pumpkins played a role in my Thanksgiving dinner. These three grew in my garden, and I used the largest—a 17 pounder—to make pumpkin pies. I cut up the squash on Tuesday and baked it for about 90 minutes. Then I pureed the flesh in a blender, and packaged the very smooth pumpkin mash in two-cup portions, most of which I froze. I saved seeds from neck pumpkin and will include them in a giveaway on my blog(s) in January or February.

pureed neck pumpkin for pie filling

I was a machine filling sandwich bags with pureed neck pumpkin before I realized I’d filled too many. I managed to put the last portion in a reusable container which I stored with one bag of puree overnight in the refrigerator. On Wednesday, I used these four cups of neck pumpkin puree to make pies. Sandwich bags, by the way, aren’t impermeable enough to preserve food in a freezer. Each holds enough puree for one pie, and I put four or five bags in a single gallon-sized freezer bag.

pies on the day after Thanksgiving

Didn’t think to snap photos before the gang had dessert. After lunch on the day after Thanksgiving, I photographed what remained of five pies I’d baked on Wednesday. We had already finished off a sour cherry pie (frozen during cherry season), and a pumpkin pie. What remained was part of an apple pie, most of a second pumpkin pie, and about half of an apple/pear/raisin spice pie I improvised from stuff in the fridge. To be clear, only the pumpkin pie contained homegrown produce, though I made from grapes the raisins I used in the apple/pear/raisin spice pie.

Post Produce on your blog, then return here and add a link back to your post. Because Post Produce is late this month, think of it as Post Produce weekend rather than Post Produce day! Share the produce you served at Thanksgiving from your own garden:

 

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